Word of the proposal to stop Niagara Falls’ flow has spread to Los Angeles. To London. To New Zealand.
It’s gone global.
So how does Niagara Falls, which already attracts millions from around the world and experienced an uptick in tourism in recent years, market something this big?
Diverting the Niagara River’s flow away from the American Falls is still several years away, said John H. Percy Jr., who heads the agency charged with drawing visitors to the Falls.
But ideas already are percolating.
Maybe hotels can offer promotions involving a dry martini.
Perhaps the message is that this may be the only chance for visitors to see what lies beneath the falls.
Maybe a festival to go along with the dry falls and the exposed rocky riverbed. When Nik Wallenda crossed a high wire above the falls in 2012, a festival became part of the hoopla.
The unnatural event is certain to bring more people to the destination spot, Percy said.
“I really do believe it has that appeal that people will want to see it,” he said.
Percy doesn’t know how the dry falls was marketed nearly 50 years ago, the last time the water was turned off. But with social media and the 24-hour news cycle, it will be easier to communicate what’s going on this time around, he said.
“I think we all have to work collectively to make this work,” he said.
While the engineering project could begin in two to three years, it’s more likely to come in the 4- to 6-year range, Percy said.
The huge national attention derived in recent days is indicative of the potential. Just in the past two days, Percy’s Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp. has seen a spike in activity on its website and Facebook page.
“It just shows you that this has that mystique behind it that I think will garner worldwide attention,” Percy said.
One important message to get out is that, while the American Falls will dry up for at least several months when the project is put in place, the Niagara River will still flow over the Horseshoe Falls.
“We’re not losing the full-water experience,” Percy said.
That means other tourism draws like the Maid of the Mist will still operate.
Niagara Falls is used to international exposure of its natural wonder, especially in the previous two winters, as the frigid landscape at Niagara Falls gained the moniker “frozen falls” and drew the world’s attention.
In 2014, a white, icy blanket formed and portions of the mighty cataract completely froze. Last winter, a similar occurrence drew the eyes of the world with 100-foot icicles, snow white pillows of snowdrifts and the forming of the ice bridge between the United States and Canada.
Tourism officials on the Canadian side of the falls are also optimistic about what the dry falls could mean for the region.
“It would be similar to the ‘Frozen Falls’ phenomenon, it gets people’s imagination (going). They would have to come and see it,” Niagara Parks Commission Chairwoman Janice Thomson told the Niagara Falls Review.
Percy said he believes the attention that will surround the dewatering will be bigger than the “frozen” winters because the available vista for visitors, exposing the rocky underbelly of the falls, is much more rare.
Tourism leaders also will have a few years to improve its attractions and lodging. Some improvements already are underway, said Patrick J. Whalen, interim executive director of Niagara University’s Global Tourism Institute.
Whalen predicts the city will look much different with the construction of new hotels and the reconfiguration of the Robert Moses Parkway heading into Niagara Falls State Park.
“The more people we can get here to stay in hotels, the better. That’s where tourism becomes an economic-development driver, when people are coming from far away,” Whalen said.
How Falls officials communicate and manage their message is vital to its success and what impact the event will have, said Kristin M. Lamoureux, associate dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University.
Part of the story should be the “once-in-a-lifetime” aspect of the occasion – but coupled with the fact that many usual parts of the Niagara Falls experience will still be available, Lamoureux said.
“I think that this is very much manageable if the message is communicated in a way that’s positive and that’s exciting.”